What Is Masculinity? 46 Manly & Toxic Traits Women Love & Despise in Men

What exactly is masculinity? Here’s what you need to know about the gender traits and the good and toxic traits of a stereotypically masculine man.

what is masculinity

What is masculinity? Have you ever asked yourself what masculine gender identity really means *not what society is pushing, but the real and concrete definition*?

The same thing can be said for femininity. What is it? There’s no actual answer. Everyone has their own idea of masculinity and femininity. You can have traditional manly traits, but your personality, in general, may not be in alignment.

We’ll help you with the answers you’re looking for. That’s what this feature is for, right? [Read: 15 reasons why nice guys finish last all the time]

What is the definition of masculinity (and femininity)?

We often think that men and masculinity are both equivalents to being strong and having no feelings whatsoever. That is the concept of gender norms of masculinity that is socially constructed in different cultures. It has absolutely nothing to do with the reality of what masculinity really is. In fact, that is what we call toxic masculinity.

Similar to femininity, masculinity shouldn’t be restricted to just one definition. For starters, you’re not masculine just because you’re not affected by feelings. You’re human, and you’re supposed to have feelings.

The manly traits that women want in a man include his ability to feel emotions and not be intimidated by showing them. Society also assumes that the love of arguments and engaging in fistfights are attributes associated with men and boys, but that’s an outdated concept. [Read: How to be yourself – 26 steps to unfake your life and love being you]

We’re not living like a pack of wolves in the wild with a blood-thirsty urge to prove who the top dog is anymore. The world is different, and the needs and definition of masculinity have changed, as well.

If you’re seriously asking what masculinity is, it’s about using communication over a fistfight to solve a conflict. What you think is traditionally masculine might not be what really is. After all, who said that in order to be masculine, you have to be stuck in this archaic concept? [Read: 18 qualities of a good man that set him apart from lesser men]

Is masculinity a good thing or a bad thing?

It’s neither! If you’re able to own your manly traits and be respectful to everyone around you, that’s healthy. It allows you to express your manliness and enjoy it.

However, a little later, we’re going to talk about toxic masculinity, which is not a good thing at all.

As long as you’re not buying into the extremely old-fashioned and completely wrong ‘men are better than women’ gender inequality ideology, masculinity is not a bad thing at all. It’s when you start moving into misogyny and arrogance that the waters start to turn very muddy. [Read: Defining true masculinity – what does it mean to be a man?]

What is masculinity? The healthy masculine norms that make you a man

With all these opposing thoughts, it seems like there is no definition of masculinity. That’s where you’re mistaken. At the end of the day, there is a consistent belief that runs strong within women of what masculinity is. *No, you don’t have to grow a beard!*

1. Self-awareness

We all have flaws and bad days, but being aware of your behavior and how it affects others is a manly trait that’s extremely positive.

Assholes don’t give a shit about what they do to other people, but a man is someone who actually considers other people’s feelings. In other words, he acts like a decent human being. [Read: Tips to transform yourself from a nice guy to a real man]

2. Proactive

A real man isn’t lying on the couch every day waiting for his partner to bring him a beer. Instead, he’s up and moving. He wants to do things with his life. He wants to enjoy the moments and get things done. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t sit down and crack open a beer.

But you’re not letting your life waste away while everyone else is doing the work for you. Being masculine means that you know how to balance being responsible and having fun. [Read: Signs you’re being selfish around everyone who cares]

3. Understanding that a relationship is a partnership

Many men think that to be a man, you should be in control and dominant in a relationship, which is wrong. A relationship is about two people in a partnership.

Both have good and bad qualities, but you support each other and use your strengths to work together. A dominating personality isn’t a manly trait at all. It’s simply being overbearing.

4. Using words over fists

We know that many men feel that true masculinity is about not letting anyone walk all over you. Sometimes, this can be true because no one likes to feel powerless.

There will be times when you’re placed in a position in which you’ll have to fight to protect yourself. If you’re intelligent, you can mostly talk your way out of any scenario without hurting yourself, anyone you love, or even the person who wants to fight you. That’s a real man. [Read: What women find attractive – 16 traits girls instantly fall for]

5. Valuing himself

When you have the knowledge and confidence and use it to take care of yourself accordingly, that’s being a man. If you’re a real man, you understand the importance of taking care of yourself because, at the end of the day, no one else takes care of you.

You’re on your own, so it’s better to invest the time and energy in yourself. After all, how will people invest in you if you can’t do it for yourself?

6. Independence

A huge part of masculinity is independence and self-reliance.

A man wants to learn how to be self-sufficient and able to provide for himself, but that doesn’t mean he never needs others from time to time. [Read: Weak men and strong men – opposing traits that split them apart]

7. Being there when he says

A real man is someone you can rely on. If they tell you that they’re going to call you tonight, they call. If they say they’re going to come over to help you paint your walls, they show up. No matter what, a real man’s word is solid.

If you’re asking what masculinity is, it’s following through with your word and matching your words to your actions.

8. Being focused on what he wants

A boy is someone who’s all over the place. He’s finding himself, fooling around, and running from one place to another. That’s not a bad thing because everyone goes through that phase in their lives.

However, a man is different. Being a man requires having goals and ambitions and knowing how to get there. A man knows what he wants and understands that he needs to do things to achieve his goals. [Read: Defining true masculinity – what does it mean to be a man?]

9. Being secure with who they are

Being a man isn’t as complex as people think it is. It’s about loving and accepting who you are, flaws and all. If you’re secure with yourself, then that is the definition of being a man.

Mainstream masculinity tells you that you need a beard and to drive a BMW, but that has nothing to do with it. Be secure with who you are and your values. That’s the ultimate manly trait. [Read: Here’s how you can be masculine without being a jerk]

10. Knowing that being a man doesn’t mean being an asshole

Some guys are a little mixed up about manly traits. They think women like assholes, and while there’s no doubt that some do, many don’t.

Women do test guys and play games sometimes to find out if you actually like them, but you don’t have to be an asshole to play them back. You just know where your boundaries are and say no when you need to.

Being an asshole doesn’t make you a man – it makes you an asshole. [Read: Why do girls play games and test guys in the early stages of dating

11. Knowing how to be a leader

While masculinity should never be defined as a singular concept, if there’s anything men are known for, it’s their assertive leadership skills.

As a man, you should know how to lead a group of people or a team toward the right path and decisions. You want to make a powerful and remarkable impact as a leader through both your actions and your words. [Read: The omega male and 15 traits that make him better than the alpha male]

12. Being capable of making decisions

What is masculinity? It’s being capable of making decisions. You need to be able to take a stand and not be wishy-washy about it. There’s nothing masculine about a man who clearly doesn’t know what he wants or which direction to take.

If you’re a very indecisive and impulsive person, you need to work on your manly traits to be more masculine. [Read: Why am I so indecisive? 18 reasons why you can’t make up your mind]

13. Resilience

The entirety of society assumes there’s absolutely no room for emotions when it comes to being a man, but this is far from true. In terms of what masculinity is, it’s being resilient and determined. It’s knowing how to stand up again after the toughest of times.

When life knocks you down repeatedly, it’s having the ability to get back up and prove your strength and courage. [Read: Masculinity vs. femininity – which side do you think is stronger?]

14. Being capable of showing his heart of gold

If you want to be perceived as having manly traits, don’t be afraid to show your heart. We’re not saying you need to be vulnerable 24/7, but you don’t have to be a cold-hearted ass to be manly.

Real men are vulnerable sometimes, and they aren’t afraid to show their feelings. That takes a lot of courage.

15. A strong sense of integrity

Integrity is being honest and having strong moral principles. When you believe in something, you stand for it.

You’re not swayed by the opinions and approval of others when it comes to your values, morals, and principles. [Read: 15 rules girls intuitively use when looking for the one]

16. Being protective

One of the common manly traits is being protective. As a man, you’ll instinctively wrap your arms around the people you care about and protect them in an uncertain place.

While feminine energy is protective from a nurturing point of view, masculine energy is about protecting your loved ones from danger, even if it means putting yourself in harm’s way. [Read: Key differences – protective boyfriend or controlling boyfriend?]

17. Reliability

When pondering what masculinity is, ask yourself if you’re someone who is true to his word. If you make a promise, do you keep it?

A masculine person has a strong moral compass, and when they give someone their word, they try their best to uphold their promise.

Don’t be fickle or flaky. When you make a promise, let the people in your life realize that you will never take your words back unless you really have no choice. [Read: The divine masculine – how to awaken the superior within]

18. Not being obsessed with the traditional gender roles

This is a big and easy giveaway to know if a guy has manly traits.

A real masculine man will never segregate stereotypical gender roles or say he can’t do something because it’s not a man’s job.

Cooking and cleaning? A masculine man will willingly do that to share his responsibility in the household. It could be changing diapers, shopping for groceries, or taking his daughter to dance class. He will do it. [Read: Man-child alert – 23 signs you’re behaving like an immature prick]

19. Being confident in his masculinity

Self-love and confidence are basics. You’ve probably read tons of articles saying how important confidence and self-esteem are, but it’s extremely hard to achieve.

When you grow up in an environment that pushes you to fit a specific norm, it’s hard to stay true to yourself. However, a masculine guy is confident in his manliness and isn’t scared to let it show. [Read: 18 qualities of a good man that sets him apart from lesser men]

20. Taking responsibility

No, you don’t need to become this super serious man who thinks three steps ahead at all times. Responsibility is more than about making smart choices and taking accountability for when you make mistakes.

You will make mistakes, but hiding or shifting the blame isn’t a healthy trait.

21. Being supportive

People want to surround themselves with others who care. One way to show that you care is by being supportive. It shows that you’re genuinely interested in the relationship you have with this person and that you really care.

After all, people want to know that someone cares about them. [Read: How to become a better person in a relationship and be happier too]

22. Setting healthy boundaries

Healthy traits include knowing where your personal boundaries are. For example, a boundary could be having two beers when you go out because you know that after the second beer, you get sleepy and pass out.

It’s a simple boundary that significantly impacts your life for the better. 

23. Stability

We’re not talking about money because, let’s face it, who is financially stable right now? What we’re talking about is emotional and mental stability.

Although it sounds like a walk in the park, finding your inner balance is a huge challenge. To become stable, you must go through your internal fears and challenges. [Read: These are the traits that make men attractive to women]

24. Facing his fears and showing courage

We all have our fears – the things that hold us back from going forward. Being courageous isn’t easy. It’s really difficult and challenging.

By facing your fears and pushing through them, you strengthen who you are as a person. A guy who can do this is masculine. It doesn’t mean he’s never scared, but he’s courageous enough to see it through.

25. Reasoning and seeing logic

This is one of the manly traits that will certainly help you out in life. Reasoning is being able to think about something with logic. You can put your emotions aside and look at the situation as it is.

When you do that, you can understand all sides and come to a logical conclusion. A guy who is able to see all sides shows his masculinity and doesn’t allow his emotions to cloud his judgment. [Read: Emotional immaturity – How to recognize them and help them grow up]

26. Being innovative

No, you don’t need to suddenly become a super-famous inventor or open a multi-million dollar start-up company. Innovation doesn’t always mean you need to invent something for the world.

Being innovative can mean finding a creative way to save money on gas or create more storage space in your closet. A guy who can seek solutions in difficult places is showing his masculinity.

27. Truthfulness

Sometimes it’s hard to be honest and tell the truth. You worry that you’re going to hurt someone, but one of the most important manly traits is being brave enough to be honest with those around you.

Of course, a masculine man will do it in a way that doesn’t hurt their feelings, but he doesn’t shy away from the responsibility of telling the truth, either. [Read: Why you should tell the truth even when it hurts and why it matters]

28. Showing respect to all

A sign of masculinity is when a guy shows respect to everyone around him, regardless of who they are. He’s kind and respectful to waiters. He shows compassion for people he doesn’t know, even those who enter his life for just a second.

This is one of the manly traits that shows you how he will be as a long-term partner. If you’re the guy, it basically means you’re a good person. That’s all we can hope for in life, right? [Read: How to show respect in a relationship and love each other better]

29. Being keen to help

An eagerness to help those who need it is a strong sign of healthy masculinity. It doesn’t mean pushing yourself into situations where you’re not needed, and it doesn’t mean assuming that you know best. It’s about seeing a person in need and offering a helping hand.

If they refuse your kind offer, that’s fine. Let them know that you’re there if they change their mind, and don’t push it. What is masculinity? Exactly that.

30. Not resorting to petty behavior

There is nothing worse than a guy who becomes petty when he doesn’t get what he wants. This covers all different types of behavior, including being passive-aggressive and giving the cold shoulder treatment.

A masculine guy doesn’t need to resort to these types of tactics. Instead, he will walk away from the situation and wait it out. No drama, no arguments. [Read: Petty Percy – 18 signs of a petty person that make them so annoying]

What is toxic masculinity?

We’ve asked the question, and we know that it’s a series of traits that create a healthy whole. There is another side to the coin – toxic masculinity.

The toxic masculinity ideology is when a guy assumes he has to stick to so-called traditional masculinity stereotypes in order to be a better person. For instance, a guy who adheres to the thought that boys and men are strong and women are weak shows extreme toxic masculinity.

He might also show behaviors, such as refusing to help around the house, because he believes that it’s a ‘woman’s job. [Read: What’s a misogynist? 22 red flags that reveal a disrespectful, sexist man]

Hegemonic masculinity is another thing related to toxic masculinity. This dominant masculinity accepts the idea that heterosexual men should have a dominant position and power in society.

This type of behavior is damaging not only to the guy and anyone he has in his life but to society as a whole because it’s very contagious.

This type of guy isn’t a good person to be around. He’s too busy beating his chest and peacocking to care about anyone but himself. [Read: Toxic masculinity – 20 toxic traits that are actually healthy]

The signs of toxic masculinity

We’ve covered healthy masculine traits, but what about toxic ones? Here are the traits you need to learn to let go of, even if you’ve been forced to hone them all your life.

1. A need for control

When someone is highly insecure about themselves or their surroundings, they’ll do their best to try to control the people and situations around them.

Control is a huge red flag in either sex. There could be deep unresolved issues within them. While the understanding of masculinity varies across different cultures, gender equality and respect are now generally accepted as part of the social norm.[Read: Controlling vs. caring – a thin line controlling men love to cross]

2. A need to exert dominance

Because he’s not comfortable with who he is as a person, he might not feel respect in certain aspects of his life. He might feel the need to be dominant toward his partner. Though it’s normal for one person to be more dominant than the other, there’s a limit.

Dominance can turn into a form of control, and it’s one of the main signs of toxic masculinity.

3. Abuse

There’s a lot of pressure for boys and young men to “be men” in the eyes of society. If a man doesn’t have a positive example of healthy masculine traits, then they struggle to understand what masculinity really is.

Insecurities and frustration can lead to explosive and abusive behavior. [Read: 15 early signs of an abusive relationship that reveal a dark side]

4. Confrontational

There’s nothing wrong with raising your opinion when you feel something isn’t right. We all do that. Most of the time, the issue is resolved. When he’s confrontational, he shows dominance in an aggressive way.

That, again, is because he’s insecure.

5. Unsupportive

In movies, you’ll see the “cool” guy never really caring about anyone else around them. He’ll nod his head and say, “oh, cool,” while scrolling through his phone, but he’s not listening.

This doesn’t show that he’s cool. It shows that he’s indifferent and egotistical. He’s showing toxic masculinity. [Read: 15 things guys do that are big turn-offs to girls]

6. Competitiveness

We’re all a little competitive. It’s how our society is built. It’s designed for us to compete to the top *whatever that means*. But there’s a point where healthy competition becomes an obsession.

This also stems from insecurities and the belief that you’re not worthy unless you win it all. A guy who has an extremely competitive personality trait is showing toxic masculinity.

7. Aggressive

This is a tough one. Most people use aggression when trying to make up for something they feel that they lack.

However, aggression is simply another way of trying to push your agenda onto someone else. It’s a form of dominance that’s extremely toxic. [Read: Things to do to become manlier… but not aggressive]

8. Egotistical

Now, we all have egos. On the one hand, our egos can be a positive trait. Once an ego gets out of control, you lose touch with reality and inflate yourself. 

A sign of toxic masculinity is a person whose ego is much larger than anyone else’s in the room. They believe they’re the best, and they go out of their way to make sure everyone else believes it. If anyone dares question it, they may become aggressive.

9. Vanity

Vanity is one of the deadly sins for a good reason. Now, self-love and confidence are positive and healthy traits to have if they come from a stable and empowering place. However, vanity comes from insecurity and isn’t genuine. [Read: 22 secret signs you’re dating an egomaniac]

10. Pushing themselves physically

A guy exhibiting toxic masculinity will compete with other guys at the gym and push themselves to the point of injury. It’s almost like a goal they cannot fail to reach. It’s not always at the gym, either. It’s in any setting in which they have to show something physically.

All this does is feed into the ego, and we already know that’s another sign of toxic masculinity.

11. Refusing to ask for help

This so-called masculine behavior is about pride. A guy who is toxic in their masculinity will refuse to reach out for help, even if they know they need it. Society has fed into their brains that asking for help is weak.

It’s not. Asking for help is one of the strongest things you can do. [Read: How to help someone up when they’re feeling down and depressed]

12. Resorting to violence/aggression

Society during the historical periods also tells us that guys should sort out issues with their fists if they want to be strong.

Research shows that violence is a normally accepted part of life that many men face as they grow up and even now. If anything, society is encouraging men to be tough and aggressive as part of their masculine role. This viewpoint is nothing but trash.

However, a guy who is showing signs of toxic masculinity will look to solve most problems through violence and aggression because he’s incapable of sitting down and talking about his feelings. [Read: Toxic love – ways it can harm you permanently and how to get away]

13. Homophobic

Homophobia from guys is a huge part of toxic masculinity. It all stems from the fact that they’re not comfortable with who they are, and their minds are stuck in the dark ages.

They assume that males need to be men in the old traditional sense. Anything that they perceive to deviate from that archaic and traditional masculine norm results in backlash.

Other men’s gender and sexual orientation that does not conform to their gender ideologies are perceived negatively by those who only believe in the gender binary and patriarchal gender norms.

14. Misogyny and sexism

Just as we’ve mentioned about homophobia, a guy who resorts to misogyny and sexism has those old mindsets in place. They believe the men are kings and that the feminine gender is there to serve them.

They don’t seem to realize that we’ve moved on several centuries and have come to our senses. [Read: Misogynistic men – what is it, 18 signs, and psychology of a woman hater]

15. Stoicism

More old-fashioned mindsets! A guy who assumes that they shouldn’t show one inch of emotion because that means they’re not a man is being stoic and toxic.

The construction of gender stereotypes, especially in western society, has outrageous expectations for men. One of these is that they don’t show emotions. As a result, young men may bottle up their emotions to conform to masculine ideals.

All guys have emotions that are just as valid as those experienced by anyone else. It makes you more of a man to sit down and talk about them rather than bottling them up.

16. Being promiscuous

We’ve all seen this before. Guys sleep around, and they’re classed as heroes. Girls do it, and they’re easy. It’s an old-fashioned view of masculinity that’s extremely far from the mark.

A guy who still buys into this construct of masculinity is showing toxic masculinity. He might think he’s king, but in reality, he just looks like a player who needs to be avoided. [Read: Love and promiscuous love in the real world]

Is it possible to get rid of toxic masculinity traits?

Yes, but it takes work and a huge amount of self-awareness.

A guy who is showing many signs of toxic masculinity has this mindset very deeply ingrained. It will take work to unpick it and to become more aware of his thoughts and actions.

If this is you, understand that by asking this question, you’ve already taken a giant leap toward freeing yourself of toxicity, but know that the hardest work is yet to come. [Read: How to improve yourself – 16 powerful secrets of self-improvement]

How to overcome toxic traits of the masculine gender

Society has pushed into our minds the way we’re supposed to think. A guy might also have had a negative male role model around them when they were younger, pushing this way of thinking into their head early on.

It’s possible to overcome toxic masculinity, but the first step is accepting it.

1. Be aware of your behavior and actions

You’ve realized that you’re showing toxic masculinity traits. That’s the first step. Now, you need to be aware of what you’re thinking and doing for the majority of the time.

This will give you an overview of how much work there is to be done. A journal may help you. It will allow you to pinpoint triggers and particular aspects of your life that cause you to think in a toxic way. [Read: Signs of low self-esteem and ways to increase it]

2. Try therapy

If your toxic masculinity is deeply ingrained, it will take a lot of work to challenge those old thoughts and replace them with something more positive. A therapist is someone who can help you do that.

It’s never a weakness to reach out and ask for help from a therapist. In many ways, it’s a major first step toward shedding that toxicity.

3. Seek help from family and friends

Asking for help doesn’t come easily to a guy who shows toxic masculinity, but it’s a necessary step. If therapy isn’t for you or if you want to continue your good work, reach out to family and friends. Tell them what you want to do and ask for their support.

If you’re a guy who has a negative male role model in your life in terms of masculinity, reach out to someone who shows healthier manly traits. [Read: Emotional baggage – how to help someone put it down and find freedom]

4. Surround yourself with positive people

Toxic masculinity in society is rife, and it tells men that they’re above certain groups, such as women. Surround yourself with positive role models and a diverse group of people.

By doing that, you’ll see that everyone is equal and worthy of love. You’ll be able to shed your toxic manly traits and replace them with something much healthier. [Read: What makes a man a man? Traditional defying manly characteristics]

So, what is masculinity?

Masculinity is a broad concept and there shouldn’t be just one definition.

At the end of the day, if you want to be a man, you need to realize that there’s no need to be a jerk or an asshole. Also, you don’t ever need to shut off your emotions just to behave like one.

Basically, you just need to be a good person.

[Read: The strongest feminine traits and where most women fall in this spectrum]

What is masculinity all about? Accept who you are, learn to be a man of principles and integrity, and you can take the first few steps toward owning your healthy manly traits.

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Preeti Tewari Serai
Preeti Serai
Preeti, the founder of LovePanky, is an eternal optimist and believer in the beauty of love and life. With an exhaustive experience in love, relationships, and ...